In 2013, South Korean television network tvN aired a competition-style reality television show called The Genius. On the surface it sounds like most other shows in the genre: a group of celebrities are tasked with playing games together in order to win a cash prize. But The Genius is something special. It's a twisty, often shocking show, that lets the audience in on the fun of solving puzzles and scheming.
While the broadcast rights have been sold to networks in France, the UK and the Netherlands, The Genius has never aired in Australia. YouTuber Bumdiddlyumptious translated and subtitled the entire show if you're in one of the many countries that missed out. And you don't want to miss this — it is one of the best reality television competition shows I've ever watched, and I've seen every season of America's Next Top Model.
One of the best parts of the show is that it hides aspects of the games and machinations of the players in the same way they're being hidden from the players themselves. As you're watching, you'll be just as shocked as other players are when alliances are betrayed, secrets are discovered and well-made plans go bottoms up.
In episode five, the contestants play a game called Scamming Horse Race, where each player is supposed to bet on a horse to win a predetermined race. The horse moves a certain amount during each round, and each player is also given a single hint about who might come in first. It's essentially a logic puzzle where each player only has part of the answer. The audience also doesn't get the full picture of all the clues until the players share them with each other.
When I was watching, I started playing along and coming up with my own working theories on which horse would win. The show presents the exact clues that the players share with each other — which means if a player lies to other players, they have also lied to the audience. Three guesses on whether or not every player was truthful.
One of the most satisfying twists is in episode seven, when the contestants play a game called Pass, Open. They're given a deck of 20 cards that either have numbers or equation signs on them. A dealer places them face down on a table, and the hope is that the player will get a high number value from the mathematical expression they have made. Additional packs of cards are purchased using garnets, the currency of the game that are also a representation of the eventual cash prize The Genius' winner will earn.
In episode seven, five players banded together in an alliance, leaving out Kim Poong, a cartoonist, and Hong Jinho, also known as professional Starcraft player YellOw, who had been teaming up in previous episodes. The alliance secretly bought the most expensive pack of additional cards and realised that the bonus packs all had different coloured backs. They then realised they could join forces to buy more of those cards and create decks that had a higher chance of getting them better expressions. Because of the different colours they knew which cards were which when face down.
Poong and Jinho never bought the most expensive packs of cards, and never realised the secret about the different coloured backings. When it came time to play the game, it seemed like the alliance had an unbeatable strategy that would eliminate the other two players. But then, unexpectedly, Jinho ended up with the highest score. How? Jinho had, in secret, learned that the basic set of cards had a pattern that looked slightly different upside down than right side up.
Additionally, while talking to the dealer, he realised that she shuffled in a way such that cards that were handed to her upside down would remain upside down afterward. Not only did he spend the least amount of garnets — retaining more of the cash prize than the rest of the players — he won the game and was granted immunity. All of this played out for the viewer and the contestants at the same time.
Usually reality television is satisfying because of the drama. But The Genius is entertaining because of the clever plays of the contestants. Not that there isn't drama — oh, there is — but it's satisfying to watch people unravel secrets, and to play along with them. If they got this show in the US, I'd just about lose my damn mind. Think we can get that change.org petition started?